#GetOutside, #PushYourLimits & Become More Than Before

I’ve written something about the mentality the allows someone to push on when others would stop and spent long tired hours contemplating how it is that we can keep moving when really, by the popular consensus we should have quit, stopped and returned.

Earlier in the year I wrote a post about a moment of realisation that seemed to changed my whole approach and outlook to getting myself outside my comfort zone.  The below is a small section of it, and probably the most important sections…

“Yet, at some point I made the conscious decision to go in.  It is easier to be in a dark place and stare up at the light than it is to stand out of reach of the dark and wander what demons lurk within.

Gradually, this dark place began to fill with light.  Where once there were undefined shapes of forbidding, there now stands figures of encouraging challenge.  The way out is easy to find, no longer a distant star, but more a beaming beacon.  The euphoria of reaching a stop point was simply the realisation that it is possible to sink lower than you imagined and then rise out.  I am no longer ashamed or fearful of this dark place. 

It is easier to crawl out of the pit of despair than it is to avoid falling in.”

Here’s something I’ve recently clocked on to, without being nebulous…

I tweeted that I was likely to fail in my next challenge (a winter BGR in sandals), but since its for a good cause I’d take it on.  It’s been something I’ve wanted to try for the last 2 years and after supporting a friend on the route in summer, I’ve become slightly obsessed with it, or more accurately fallen in love with the stupidity of the UK rounds.

For those that don’t know, the UK rounds involve long distances, lots of peaks and the main national parks of the UK.  All of them have ridiculous amounts of ascent, are ultra distances, involved as many peaks as you can grab and require lots of navigation and outdoor skills.  This is all before you consider the fitness needed and the mentality that goes hand in hand with these challenges.  There are 3 big rounds in the UK that I’m fascinated by, mostly because of the mental aspect.  How does a person cope mentally with such a challenge?

This is where the tweet reply from Ricky comes in….

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At some point along the way, I seem to have embraced the philosophy that I was so interested in when I was at the end of my university degree, and even more interested in when I went back to college to try my hand at photography.

It’s a simple concept.

When faced with adversity you should embrace failure before you even begin.  But this seems to completely counter what we are told about positive mental attitude.  Think about it happening, see yourself being successful and you will be.  The thing is, it’s an oddly peaceful mental state to get into.  As soon as you acknowledge the failure and embrace it, a sense of indifference seems to roll over you.  You aren’t worried about failing.  It’s almost as though the failure doesn’t exist.  The same happens with the thoughts of success.  They seem to disintegrate as you develop the same sense of indifference to the idea of finishing successfully.

What is there left if your indifferent to it all?  Well, its an odd sense of nothingness, where you simply act as is needed.   You develop a strange sense of purpose that drives you forwards, regardless of pain, tiredness or injury.  Most importantly, you act as you need to act, freed from the usual constraints that inform or shape our decisions when involved in challenges.

I am a fan of the phrase “endeavour to cultivate stupidity” because for me it embodies this attitude to challenges.  I will be starting a whole new part of my little adventure, and it will be interesting to see what happens, but for now, I’m going to focus on getting in the right frame of mind to complete probably the hardest physical challenge of my life…

The Bob Graham round, and I will do it to raise awareness of the fundraising that the Cumbrian Foundation are doing. So, if you wish to help you can get involved in one of the following ways:

 

Why Do You Run?  Recurrent Rumination 

There’s nothing special in this post.  It is just a way to externalise something that is very slowly chipping away at my resolve, and maybe by externalising it I can start to redirect it.  So, feel free to stop reading.  These are just the words of someone feeling sorry for themselves and trying to stop the self pity. 

Here’s the problem with these ponderations.  I’m not running as often as I was.

The drive to get out seems to have been misplaced and I feel an old mental state returning.  I have been aware of it for a while and instead of acknowledgement I have sought distractions.  Just getting out and running doesn’t seem to be good enough, but I’m not actually going out to run!  So is the mood a result of not running or is the not running a result of the mood?

In truth I have no idea, but I think my current lost mojo and mood comes from a few places.  Discussions with an old friend about the past, the inevitable come down from a summer of experiencing freedom in a way I didn’t think existed and the remains of poor past choices.

“Why do I run?” is an important questions in dealing with the current low.  I am not myself, and I know I run to return to myself and let the grime of modern living fall away, but how does one find their mojo when it has been misplaced?  

I don’t know the answer and I’m a bit lost as to where to find the answer.  Maybe I should stop feeling sorry for myself.  Maybe I should stop looking to the past, screw the future and go back to living one moment at a time.  

And there it is…..

I knew there was a reason to writing nonsense like this, and having those conversations with yourself that you can’t have with others, whether there are no others or they are not the people you’d like to speak to.

I run to help me find that feeling of living one moment at a time.  In fact I run to return to the present and stop worrying about the future or dwell on the negatives of the past.  It’s time to start climbing out again.

So why do you run?

Running, Anger & Annoyance – Are They An Inevitable Link For Improvement Of Self?

  
These thoughts are unformed, the initial threads of a new line of thinking and just the musings of someone who has realised or thinks they have realised something.

Running and pushing has at some point dissociated form anger and annoyance.

In fact, should we run or train using anger and annoyance as a driving force?  Are they beneficial sides to be used or are they the path to disappointment and maybe even injury?

Surely it is better to run at peace, pushing when you feel it is needed, being happy with the outcome of choosing not to push hard and realising that you really can’t fight with yourself.      Is it that anger and annoyance masks the sense that you aren’t at one with yourself or is it a way of focusing on the push?

I have used anger to drive me forwards when others and myself felt that the early end of a journey is inevitable, but it never felt as fulfilling as just pushing because I knew I could.  Is it the fact that I know I can push harder if needed, that I know the dark voice of doubt is actually my analysis of a situation and a tool that shows the way to proceed as apposed to showing how not to proceed?

Rambling on as I am, I have just one question….

Do you use anger and annoyance to find something that wasn’t there before when pushing yourself to your limits?

The 3 Elements Of Trail Running – Brief Thoughts After #BareFootLeJog Part 1

I finished at 10pm on the 2nd of September after a 53 mile day in 10 hours of running.  This was the day after, having had a nice evening of celebrating with the traditional Scottish beverage.

I finished at 10pm on the 2nd of September after a 53 mile day in 10 hours of running. This was the day after, having had a nice evening of celebrating with the traditional Scottish beverage.  There’s nothing like making fun of yourself with a proper wolly pose 😉

Sean Conway, having completed his JogLe posted an article called the 4 elements of trail running.  At the time, I was in the process of putting the final pieces of my LeJog in place, so I read with interest and even added an additional element.

Travelling for 38 days, carrying what you need to survive tends to provide you with lots of time to ponder ephemeral ideas like the nature of endurance or how we escape from that dark place we sometimes find ourselves as ultra runners.  The whole elements of trail running seemed to stick in my head and it seemed to me that there are actually 3 elements to focus on.  The 4 Sean Conway mentions are actually breakdowns of these 3 elements and having complete LeJog, barefooted and unsupported in 38 days, I think I can put my thoughts down (38 days is a long time to think!).

The first element, although they are all of equal importance is mechanics.  I’m referring to the understanding of how you move as a person and developing the efficiency of this movement.  I felt I was reasonably efficient when I ran or walked, but on the 5th day I found I was moving far better than day one.  Maybe it was getting used to the 8kg pack or even the breakfast I ate, but regardless, running along the Devon section of the South West Coast path felt more fluid that running ever had.  Later I was using what I knew about physiology (research in book like Anatomy for Runners and various podcasts and websites) and I would then treat the problem and alter my movement as consciously as I could to prevent the problem.  My hips would hurt near the end of the trip and so I dealt with them by working on my quads that were causing the problem.  The was one problem early on that could have ended the barefoot LeJog adventure after just 5 days.  I was thrown off my feet by the gales of day 2 and had a lovely bruised lump on the top of my left foot.  We compensate for injury, no matter how small and alter our mechanics, and mine caused severe tendentious at the join between my Achilles and my Soleous muscle.

This was hard to deal with and then leads to the second element, mentality.  We train our bodies when we take on long distance running (well, any length of running or exercise) but how often do we train our brains?  Day 6 was a difficult day.  I had nothing to do, I could barely walk around and the time seemed to be used by my brain to think about failure.  I realised a few days after that I wasn’t looking into that dark place but I had fallen in.  The people who had virtually joined in, donated money and spoken to me at races before LeJog became a whole host of people I was going to let down.  Then the phone buzzed and a friend sent me a message that threw my own words into my face…

“You either do something or you don’t.  There’s no trying to do something”

I’d like to thank Master Yoda for that pearl of wisdom, but it had a massive impact on me.  I genuinely believed those words when I spoke them and they seemed to trigger some kind of flow state.  The rest of the run was rescheduled so that I had several weeks of short days and I set my mind to getting as far as I could.  I think this is the part of our mentality as ultra runners that we need to celebrate and keep building.  We can enter these flow states and become problem solving machines, but it seems to take utter immersion in what we’re doing and slight changes to our environment to trigger them.  The other part of the mentality that is equally as important is acknowledging the suck!  We know when things are bad, but we don’t always acknowledge them.  I reached a point near the end of the trip where I would just admit I was tired, admit I needed to stop and once I did this, solving the problem seemed to be easier, whether it was related to physical or mental tiredness.  Mental tiredness tended to end in a quick snooze and the physical tiredness was in some cases completely removed by knowing what to eat.

Above Malham Cove.  One of the best climbs of the trip with some awesome limestone slabs to bounce around on.

Above Malham Cove. One of the best climbs of the trip with some awesome limestone slabs to bounce around on.

Now comes the third element which is metabolism.  By this I’m not just referring to what we eat, but how our bodies utilises water and the food we put in.  After 2 weeks, I was barely eating anything.  I would mix a bottle of tailwind up (2 scoops in 600ml) and this would last me for half a days worth of moving, followed by a refill and then an evening meal.  Admittedly I was staying aerobic for most of the time, but even on the occasions where the trail was tremendous and it would be a sin not to unleash for just a few miles, I didn’t seem to need the extra fuel that we are told we need.  I would go into shops after 20-30 miles and what I purchased was specific.  I even left a fair few shops with no extra food and just water, even though I knew the day after would be a long one without any form of food stops.  Now this is all diet based, but there is the side of metabolism that relates to what fuels we burn whilst moving and it really did seem to boil down to fat as fuel and glucose as a minor top up.  I must have been doing something right though since I lost 10lbs over all, which was 4% of body fat with a 2% muscle gain.  I was hoping to at least lose enough to get that coveted six pack!

Two days after I restarted (day 9) I was lucky enough to be given a bag of left over roast potatoes and a nice lunch they made too.

Two days after I restarted (day 9) I was lucky enough to be given a bag of left over roast potatoes and a nice lunch they made too.

Now I’ve been really brief with these elements, since I have lots of thoughts on each one, in particular the mechanics and mentality elements.  They are what made the trip as successful and for the majority of time a joy to do.

What was or wasn’t on my feet aside, once I got my head around the mentality and mechanics elements the metabolism seemed to be second nature.  If something hurt, I would hunt for the source of that pain, whether it was poor movement, tight muscles or the distribution of weight in my pack.  Aches and pains that I was getting seemed to go, new ones developed until I found their source and they would be banished too.

It’s time to round this off as the first part.  These 3 elements deserve a little more time, so I’ll be working on my thoughts some more and posting about them as distinct ideas, but as far as the LeJog write up goes, this is part 1 of a possible 3.

Hope you found something useful or interesting in this post.

Acknowledge To Avoid

Justgiving.com/barefootlejog

It’s all too easy to fall into a hole.  Sometimes, we don’t even realise that it’s happening until it’s too late and all that is ahead of us is a slow, hard climb out.

Part of the process seems to be to acknowledge where you are or where you’re heading before you get there.  Everyone has moments where they realise that actually, everything isn’t ok, and part of the journey has been how to deal with this, avoid it and manage when your there.

Here’s what I’ve found helps, and although it is purely a personal thing, contains no magic bullets or new strategies, sometimes it helps to have someone repeat what you already know.  So, for what its worth here they are:

  1. Learn not lie – this isn’t just to others but also to yourself.  We know instinctively when things aren’t quite right and all to often we push on, making a small piece of grit in our metaphoric shoe into a giant jagged rock.
  2. Acknowledge it if its unavoidable – sometimes, situations, poor planning, bad luck and distractions take us places we really don’t want to be.  Acknowledgement, in a matter of fact way is often the only way out.
  3. Just pause, look and absorb – This is probably the simplest way to deal with a low point.  We miss so much when that low point hits.  Tunnel vision kicks in, our brains focus on the wrong things and we lose that ability to be aware of our surroundings and actually appreciate where we are.
  4. Smile – Stopping and smilling for no reason at all is odd at the best of times, but combine it with a random laugh and its like rocket fuel!  It’s almost like a reset switch that puts everything back on the right track.
  5. Be ready to fail – Now this is an interesting one for me.  Samurai and martial artist are instructed to fight as though they are already dead, removing that fear of dying and allowing them to act without hesitation.  those negative thoughts of failure are like tiny grains of sand in that same metaphorical shoe.  They continue an imperceptible grind and then you notice a huge tear that wasn’t there before, all from the constant low level nagging.  Acknowledge the failure and be ready to deal with it and then use it to make you mentally stronger and ready for a rematch

Like I said earlier, I don’t believe any of this is actually in any way new, groundbreaking or a magic bullet.  It doesn’t even apply purely to running, but hopefully it acts as a memory jogger and that little kick for someone who needs it.

9 days to go…..

A Question Of Mentality

A set of recent conversation have caused a review of my mentality when considering the summer challenge.  

I have no milestones by which to judge or acknowledge progress and have no intention to move quickly as I make my way through the UK.  A while ago, without meaning to I switched from a goal orientated mindset to one that focuses on being present in the journey.  This is my way of explaining why I stop in a race to admire the view, or slow down so I can talk to people and fully embrace the experience.  Sometimes I catch myself being pulled in to the goal mentality in races, and I know it’s happening because the enjoyment has gone, only to be replaced by an overwhelming desire to move past the person in front and to beat that ever ticking clock.  At that point, I slow down, regain control of my breath and cadence, moving at my own comfortable pace, and admire as the colour seems to return to my surroundings as though some remotely increases natures colour saturation.  I’m not interested in a setting records or beating anyone else, just finding the limits of the fleshy vessel I seem to be part of. 

I guess with things of this nature, it’s more about knowing yourself, your limitations and strengths, being prepared to compromise and improvise when setting goes wrong.  No matter how much training I do, it’s likely resilience is going to be the most important tool in box.

3 weeks today, I’ll be walking to the sea, placing my hands in the cool water before heading north so I can repeat the ritual at the opposite end of this island I live on.  

Hope the adventure live up to the build up….

Sleep Deprived Musings Of An Ultra Runner

As teachers, we encourage reflective thought in our students.  We are encouraged to be reflective practitioners with our teaching and continually review, refresh or improve out practice.

The weekends adventures (all be it, joining and supporting someone else’s adventure), and the looming start of my challenge (26th of July) has given me some time to think.  A couple of things kept cropping up during the run in random conversations.

1.  People don’t understand why

This is a common thing said by fell and ultra runners.  People find it difficult to comprehend the reason behind what we do as runners.  The distances are hard to comprehend, the lack of sleep, need for food and the persistent forward motion are also tricky to grasp.  Why would someone give up comforts for such a mundane activity?

I’ve thought long and hard about this, not being happy with the “if you are asking you won’t understand” response.  It seems (for me anyway) to stem from a love of the elegance of it all.  To be able to navigate through empty landscapes, cross vast expanses of land and scale mountains with an air of effortlessness, is just simply put, graceful.  There is something of the greek myths and legends about the people who take on these journeys, were even failure to complete a challenge becomes a victory in itself.  Simply completing one of these endurance challenges wouldn’t be enough for someone to understand the reasons why for one simple reason…

The reasons why is ephemeral, and shifts.  What begins as a way of digging yourself out of a dark hole changes into a myriad of colourful reasons, with only one common theme.  A persistent drive to move forwards.  It seems for me the only common theme to my reasons for  taking on these challenges is seeking a simplicity in my existence.  A way to constantly redirect those inner demons that slow my development as a person.

2.  What are you running from?

Often disguised as the question ‘why do you run?’ or “why did you start running?”, the question is still the same.  What is it that you run away from?

The reasons are personal, but they seem to be variations on a theme.  Most people run because they realise that they aren’t happy with themselves, whether it is their weight or bad habits.  I started running to overcome a low point, where happiness was something fleeting, but now I simply run to be.  Not to see if I can run further, not to hide problems that I don’t want to acknowledge and not to prove a point or seek some ego boosting prestige.  Running tends to bring with it a sense of freedom and a sense that you are in fact being your true self.  Clarity in thought, responding to your bodies needs, moving with the landscape as apposed to fighting it and experiencing the moment.  In fact, the moment itself seems to stop having the same meaning.  I find it shifts in length, at times being short and others stretching out as though it could be infinitely long.  Despite this chaotic nature, one thing brings it all together.  The sense of nothingness that engulfs me.  Not a nothingness where I seize to exist, but more an indifference to the normal demands on a person, where you can just be.  I’ve struggled to put this feeling in to words, and I still find it difficult to do so.  All I can say is this….  it is the one mental place, were it is possible to truly acknowledge who you really are and measure your value and significance.  Realising that we are but a tiny blip in time is somewhat scary and to many sounds a little depressing but its this feeling that brings a smile to my face every time, regardless of the pain or tiredness Im feeling.

It should be interesting to see whether my thinking shifts, or whether I discover anything new about myself.  Long endurance challenges are said to be the perfect arenas to see what we are made of and to test our limits.  I have even heard ultra running legends say that they reveal a person for who they really are.  Right now I have just two desires in terms of the challenge…  To complete it successfully and not disappoint those that have given their support and to allow the selfishness of the whole adventure do some good for others who are less fortunate.

So…  after that long and rambling piece of philosophical thinking, why do you run?